Taboos: Considering the Unthinkable
AbstractA taboo is an "unthinkable" action, that is, even the thought of violating it triggers social punishment. Taboos are the social "thought police," discouraging individuals from considering certain type of actions. We consider a simple model in which taboos are part of the definition of one's identity. Deliberating over breaking the taboo adds the action to the individual’s choice set and provides information on possible private benefits but is costly because it contradicts one's identity. The strength of the taboo is endogenously determined by the number of individuals that obey it without any consideration of its violation. We model stable taboos and examine how they can change and disappear over time as a result of changes in the distribution of private benefits gained from its violation. We assume that individuals are heterogeneous with respect to their attitudes towards social punishment. We then analyze the relationship between social heterogeneity and the strength as well as effectiveness of taboos, i.e., are taboos stronger in homogenous or heterogeneous societies? We extend our analysis and examine societies in which individuals may choose among several identities, characterized by different taboos or varying strengths of taboos. Having such a choice defines an evolutionary process with respect to identity: Some identities disappear while others flourish. We examine the characterization and the conditions giving rise to a multi-identity society.
Download InfoIf you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.
Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 6854.
Date of creation: Jun 2008
Date of revision:
Contact details of provider:
Postal: Centre for Economic Policy Research, 77 Bastwick Street, London EC1V 3PZ.
Phone: 44 - 20 - 7183 8801
Fax: 44 - 20 - 7183 8820
Find related papers by JEL classification:
- D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
- H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
- Z13 - Other Special Topics - - Cultural Economics - - - Economic Sociology; Economic Anthropology; Social and Economic Stratification
This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:
- NEP-ALL-2008-06-27 (All new papers)
- NEP-EVO-2008-06-27 (Evolutionary Economics)
- NEP-SOC-2008-06-27 (Social Norms & Social Capital)
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- Romer, David, 1984. "The Theory of Social Custom: A Modification and Some Extensions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 99(4), pages 717-27, November.
- George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2000. "Economics And Identity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(3), pages 715-753, August.
- Alvin E. Roth, 2007.
"Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets,"
Journal of Economic Perspectives,
American Economic Association, vol. 21(3), pages 37-58, Summer.
- Roth, Alvin, 2007. "Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets," Scholarly Articles 2624677, Harvard University Department of Economics.
- Alvin E. Roth, 2006. "Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets," Levine's Bibliography 321307000000000629, UCLA Department of Economics.
- Alvin E. Roth, 2006. "Repugnance as a Constraint on Markets," NBER Working Papers 12702, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Akerlof, George A, 1980.
"A Theory of Social Custom, of Which Unemployment May be One Consequence,"
The Quarterly Journal of Economics,
MIT Press, vol. 94(4), pages 749-75, June.
- George A. Akerlof, 1978. "A theory of social custom, of which unemployment may be one consequence," Special Studies Papers 118, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ().
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.